23 April 2020

23 April

Ruggero Leoncavallo – opera composer


Writer and musician created one of the most popular operas of all time

Ruggero Leoncavallo, the composer of the opera, Pagliacci, was born on this day in 1857 in Naples.  Pagliacci - which means 'clowns' - is one of the most popular operas ever written and is still regularly performed all over the world.  Leoncavallo also wrote the song, Mattinata, often performed by Enrico Caruso and still recorded by today’s tenors.  Leoncavallo was the son of a judge and moved with his father from Naples to live in the town of Montalto Uffugo in Calabria when he was a child.  He later returned to Naples to be educated and then studied literature at the University of Bologna under the poet Giosuè Carducci.  Leoncavallo initially worked as a piano teacher in Egypt but then moved to Paris where he found work as an accompanist for artists singing in cafes.  He then moved to Milan where he taught the piano and started to compose operas.  After the success of Pietro Mascagni’s Cavalleria rusticana, Leoncavallo produced his own verismo work, Pagliacci. Verismo was a post-romantic operatic tradition, often featuring true stories about the lives of poor people.  Leoncavallo claimed he had derived the plot for Pagliacci from a real-life murder trial.  Read more…


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Stefano Bontade - Mafia supremo


Well-connected Cosa Nostra boss had links to ex-premier Andreotti

Stefano Bontade, one of the most powerful and well connected figures in the Sicilian Mafia in the 1960s and 1970s, was born on this day in 1939 in Palermo, where he was murdered exactly 42 years later in a birthday execution that sparked a two-year war between the island’s rival clans.  Known as Il Falco – the Falcon – he was said to have close links with a number of important politicians in Sicily and with the former Italian prime minister Giulio Andreotti.  He was strongly suspected of being a key figure in the 1962 murder of Enrico Mattei, the president of Italy’s state-owned oil and gas conglomerate ENI, and in the bogus kidnapping of Michele Sindona, the disgraced banker who used the Vatican Bank to launder the proceeds of Cosa Nostra heroin trafficking.  Born into a Mafia family, Bontade controlled the Villagrazia area in the south-west of Palermo and became head of the Santa Maria di Gesù crime family at the age of 25 when his father, Francesco Paolo Bontade, a major Cosa Nostra boss known as Don Paolino, stepped down in failing health.  He was banished to the mainland, specifically Qualiano in Campania, following his arrest in 1972.  Read more…


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Gaspara Stampa – poet


Beautiful sonnets were inspired by unrequited love

Gaspara Stampa, the greatest female poet of the Italian Renaissance, died on this day in 1554 in Venice at the age of 31.  She is regarded by many as the greatest Italian female poet of any age, despite having had such a brief life.  Gaspara was born in Padua and lived in the city until she was eight years old. Her father, Bartolomeo, had been a jewel and gold merchant, but after he died, Gaspara’s mother, Cecilia, took her three children to live in Venice. They were accommodated in the house of Geronimo Morosini, who was descended from a noble Venetian family, in the parish of Santi Gervasio and Protasio, now known as San Trovaso.  Along with her sister, Cassandra, and brother, Baldassare, Gaspara was educated in literature, music, history and painting. She excelled at singing and playing the lute and her home became a cultural hub as it was visited by many Venetian writers, painters and musicians, among them Francesco Sansovino, a poet and writer who was the son of the great Florentine architect, Jacopo Sansovino.  Gaspara dedicated most of her poems to Count Collatino di Collalto of Treviso, with whom she had an affair.  Read more…


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Gianandrea Noseda - conductor


Milanese musician has achieved worldwide acclaim

Gianandrea Noseda, who is recognised as one of the leading orchestra conductors of his generation, was born on this day in 1964 in Milan.  He holds the title of Cavaliere Ufficiale al Merito della Repubblica Italiana for his contribution to the artistic life of Italy.  Noseda studied piano and composition in Milan and began studying conducting at the age of 27.  He made his debut as a conductor in 1994 with the Orchestra Sinfonica di Milano Giuseppe Verdi. He won the Cadaques International Conducting Competition for young conductors in Spain the same year.  In 1997 he became principal guest conductor at the Mariinsky Theatre in St Petersburg and during his time there became fluent in Russian.  In 2002 he became principal conductor of the BBC Philharmonic and in this role led live performances in Manchester of Beethoven’s nine symphonies. In 2006 his title was changed to chief conductor.  The London Symphony Orchestra announced the appointment of Noseda as its new principal guest conductor in 2016.  Noseda has been Music Director of the Teatro Regio Torino since 2007, taking their orchestra to the Edinburgh Festival in 2017.  Read more… 


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